Setting the stage
The Arizona Cardinals are hoping to get back to winning football after two consecutive sour losses to division rivals San Francisco and Seattle. The good news, they have the underwhelming and undermanned Atlanta Falcons on a long week to do it with.
With injuries to starters Roddy White and Julio Jones as well as Cardinals-killer Stephen Jackson listed as questionable, to say Atlanta is a little thin right now is an understatement. Still, this is an offense that is led by Matt Ryan and Mike Smith, who have not had a losing record in a season since they’ve been together in 2008. Even at 2-4 in the season, the Falcons have been very successful over the last half decade and a win in Atlanta is never an easy thing.
Take the 2012 meeting between the two teams for example. In Week 11, the Falcons were able to defeat the Cardinals 23-19, despite the Redbirds (or the redder of the two birds) picking off Matt Ryan five times. Such has been the luck of the Cardinals these past two season; dominant defensive performances constantly being squandered by subpar offensive showings. If the Cards want to stay in contention, that needs to change and fast.
Here’s a look at some matchups to watch for the dirty bird bowl:
Larry Fitzgerald vs Desmond Trufant
Arizona’s veteran wide receiver will be met by the talented rookie, Desmond Trufant.
After battling a hamstring injury all season, Fitzgerald has been up and down throughout the season. Some of that is in Arians’ insistence that Fitz constantly shift around instead of lining him up on the outside as he has his whole career, but the injury is a factor as well.
With some time spent recuperating on the long week, Fitzgerald could be at his best in this game playing against a rookie, and could explode with a huge game. The conditions are as right as any.
John Abraham vs Sam Baker/Jeremy Trueblood
Ever since he began seeing starter minutes, the former Falcon has been a force to be reckoned with, notching two sacks and two forced fumbles last week against Seattle. Playing against the team he spent the previous seven seasons with, Abraham will be in both unfamiliar territory and familiar territory.
Against his former teammates, the active sacks leader will be looking to cause some impact in a must-win game for his Cardinals.
Osi Umenyiora vs Bradley Sowell
On the other side, the Arizona Cardinals offense hopes that after giving up seven sacks against the Seattle Seahawks, their offensive line woes are a thing of the past.
Specifically, Bradley Sowell will need to step up and set the tone of the entire offensive line. As the starting left tackle, he needs to be able to shut down a pass rushing threat one on one every single play. If he can do that, a lot of freedom is given for the other four linemen to pick up blitzes and get creative with handling the other pass rushers.
Osi Umenyiora is a lot like Arizona’s own Abraham; he may be a little old, but he can still pack a punch if given the opportunity.
By the numbers
Arizona 2013 record: 3-4
Atlanta 2013 record: 2-4
Vegas betting line: Cardinals are favored by 2.5 points
Lifetime series: Arizona leads 15-13, home team leads 18-10
Last year: Cards lost 23-19 in week 11.
2013 Individual stats
Carson Palmer: 161-266 (60.5 comp%) for 1741 yards, 8 TD, 13 INT (sacked 20 times)
Andre Ellington: 28 carries for 179 yards (6.4 ypc) 1 TD; 20 receptions for 190 yards and a TD
Larry Fitzgerald: 32 receptions for 422 yards and 4 TD; Michael Floyd: 31 receptions for 403 yards and a TD
Patrick Peterson: 9 pass deflections and three interceptions; John Abraham: two sacks and two forced fumbles
Matt Ryan: 171-244 (70.1 comp%) for 1922 yards, 13 TD, 3 INT (sacked 9 times. Nine times.)
Tony Gonzalez: 35 receptions for 369 yards and three TD
Osi Umenyiora: 4 sacks, two forced fumbles, 1 INT
The Cardinals are actually favored in Vegas for this one, something that can’t be said about a majority of their games. For that reason, I like the Cardinals in this game. Patrick Peterson doesn’t have to face Roddy White or Julio Jones, so Matt Ryan only has Tony Gonzalez to throw to, which doesn’t spell good things for the Atlanta offense, especially with the Cardinals so stout up front this season. Hopefully the offense capitalizes on what is certain to be some good field position due to turnovers. I’ll take ARZ 24 – 14 ATL.
Kickoff is 4:25ET, at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Coverage Fox.